ashland.news
May 26, 2024

Chris Honoré: ‘Woke’ and the culture wars

Clker Free Vector Images from Pixabay
April 10, 2023

When language is hijacked for political ends

By Chris Honoré

When the Silicon Valley Bank failed, it sent shock waves through financial markets. And perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise that, when discussing causation, many Republicans attributed its collapse to the fact that it was a “woke” bank. What gave me pause was their use of the word “woke.”

Chris Honoré

The word, initially regarded as slang, was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2017, and is now a part of the mainstream language. It is derived from African-American vernacular, and was meant to describe one who is alert to and aware of the presence in our society of prejudice and discrimination, as well as systemic oppression and injustice. The term has since become contemporized and, beginning in 2014, became identified with the Black Lives Matter movement and was often used during protests or when debating the role the police should play in our society. But what does “woke” ultimately mean?

Prior to its being appropriated by other activist groups, Perry Bacon, Jr., a columnist for the Washington Post, gave the term a comprehensive definition (one not necessarily shared by many centrist Democrats). He asserted that to be “woke” meant a rejection of American exceptionalism; incorporated the belief that America has never been a true democracy; that people of color suffer from systemic, institutional discrimination; that women suffer from inherent sexism; that individuals should be able to identify with any gender or even none; and that Donald Trump’s election was not an aberration, but a reflection of the prejudices regarding people of color held by a large part of the American population.  

“Woke” has, however, been recently co-opted by conservatives and is often used as a single-word pejorative rallying cry when referring to progressives (or Democrats in general) and the issues they advocate. It is generally said with an insulting, denigrating sneer and is likely followed by the words “political correctness.”

For example, Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis — who will, presumably, soon announce his candidacy for president — in a recent speech characterized his state as “the place where ’woke’ goes to die” and signed a law named “Stop the Woke Act.” We reject “woke” ideology, he said, and “we will never surrender to the ‘woke’ agenda, or the ‘woke’ mob,” thus reminding his audience of his adherence to “anti-wokeness.” He has advocated the erasure of race-related content, such as Critical Race Theory (the definition of which is as elusive as the term “woke”), the 1619 Project, or African-American history courses in Florida’s high schools. He has also supported barring transgender athletes from competing, and supported enhancing criminal penalties for people arrested for protesting during demonstrations (recall those that took place in reaction to the death of George Floyd).

Our language is dynamic, ever-changing, with some words evolving into internet memes. Nouns (even proper nouns) can become verbs (linguists call it verbing). An example would be the phrase, “I just bricked my phone,” meaning I rendered it useless. Or my sister “Houdinied her way out of a locked closet.” Matt Damon, in the film “The Martian,” finding himself stranded on Mars, says to himself, when analyzing his dilemma, “I’m going to have to science the —- out of this.”

While some words seem to spontaneously appear in usage, “woke” being an excellent example, others simply vanish. But for as long as they last, they are convenient short-cuts. Just ask any conservative whom you’ve friended.

Email Ashland resident Chris Honoré at honore307@gmail.com.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

Related Posts...

Chris Honoré: Super Tuesday and cognitive dissonance

Chris Honoré: Do Republicans not fully comprehend that this coming election, like no other, will ultimately represent a choice, not one framed by policy or issues, but one that affirms how we wish to be governed? In other words, our democracy is first and foremost on the ballot.

Read More »
Donald Trump

Chris Honoré: A selective morality

Chris Honoré: In this moment [Trump backers] support a candidate who openly declares that on Day One of his administration he will be a retributive dictator and that democracy is anachronistic.

Read More »

Latest posts

Let’s talk: Collaborative conversation coaching order of the first Law Day

Local high school students relished their deep dive into navigating some of the thorniest political issues of our time at the first-ever Southern Oregon Law Day on Thursday at Southern Oregon University. The half-day event, held at Stevenson Union on the SOU campus, featured a number of experts in their respective fields, as well as opening remarks by Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, and closing remarks by Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland.

Read More >

OSF veteran depicts an actor’s haunting life in new novel

“Harriman’s Ghost” tells side-by-side stories of the life of the fictional Ben Harriman, a revered film and television star, and Janet Cooper, ghost writer of Harriman’s official biography. In “Harriman’s Ghost,” she is goaded into writing another book that unveils the truth about the actor’s troubled life.

Read More >

‘Beautiful Music in the Park’ returns Saturday for its next season

True to its name, the nonprofit organization Beautiful Music in the Park will bring, well, beautiful music to Lithia Park again this year, the second season for the program founded by longtime park cello busker Daniel Sperry, starting Saturday, May 25. The piano quintet “Friends of Flare” is set to play from 11 a.m. to noon on the small field past the lower duck pond, affectionately nicknamed the “cello lawn” after Sperry’s frequent busks.

Read More >

Explore More...

Let’s talk: Collaborative conversation coaching order of the first Law Day

Local high school students relished their deep dive into navigating some of the thorniest political issues of our time at the first-ever Southern Oregon Law Day on Thursday at Southern Oregon University. The half-day event, held at Stevenson Union on the SOU campus, featured a number of experts in their respective fields, as well as opening remarks by Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, and closing remarks by Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland.

Read More>

OSF veteran depicts an actor’s haunting life in new novel

“Harriman’s Ghost” tells side-by-side stories of the life of the fictional Ben Harriman, a revered film and television star, and Janet Cooper, ghost writer of Harriman’s official biography. In “Harriman’s Ghost,” she is goaded into writing another book that unveils the truth about the actor’s troubled life.

Read More>
Daniel Sperry quintet at Lithia Park

‘Beautiful Music in the Park’ returns Saturday for its next season

True to its name, the nonprofit organization Beautiful Music in the Park will bring, well, beautiful music to Lithia Park again this year, the second season for the program founded by longtime park cello busker Daniel Sperry, starting Saturday, May 25. The piano quintet “Friends of Flare” is set to play from 11 a.m. to noon on the small field past the lower duck pond, affectionately nicknamed the “cello lawn” after Sperry’s frequent busks.

Read More>
ashland.news logo

Subscribe to the newsletter and get local news sent directly to your inbox.

(It’s free)

Don't Miss Our Top Stories

Get our newsletter delivered to your inbox three times a week.
It’s FREE and you can cancel anytime.